Can Design Change the World?

No single thing has ever resulted in large-scale social change. Change comes from the interaction of innumerable individuals, disciplines, and institutions in ways that are anything but linear. But the design of the built environment has an important role to play. Design can:

  1. be participatory and democratic — a process that strengthens and empowers communities;
  2. directly influence people's interactions with the natural environment, and in doing so foster awareness of and reconnection with nature (broadly defined);
  3. directly influence people's relationships and interactions with one another, and in doing so foster community and solidarity;
  4. use materials and energy mindfully and efficiently;
  5. go beyond efficiency to design buildings and cities that have positive impact — that are heated and cooled with sun and wind, that produce clean energy, purify water, provide habitat and produce food, and whose components can become useful inputs (nutrients) for the biosphere or technosphere at the end of their useful life; and
  6. directly affect the scale and distribution of human settlements and their supporting infrastructure — spatial elements with important implications for resilience, sustainability, and the formation of social capital.

Whether consciously or otherwise, design inevitably fosters certain social patterns while suppressing others. Implemented mindfully, with broad participation and earnest discourse, design can help to re-envision and remake our world.

Note: These strategies and precepts have come from a number of sources and visionaries — among them, critical theorists Jürgen Habermas, architect William McDonough, physicist Amory Lovins, and the work of Christopher Alexander and Jane Jacobs, among many others.

copyright © 2013 by carl s. sterner, unless otherwise noted. more...